OPINION: Is dairy the new tobacco?

For decades, agribusiness has been pulling levers in the U.S. Capitol, and billions of our tax dollars have been wasted in propping up our antiquated dairy industry.

OPINION: By GENE BAUR - PRESIDENT AND CO-FOUNDER OF FARM SANCTUARY on FEB 12, 2018 | The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect the views of Animals Australia.

As the Congress scrambled to pass a funding bill to prevent another government shutdown, a well-heeled set of operatives was hard at work behind the scenes, ensuring that our government ramps up subsidies for a cruel, wasteful and irresponsible industry: factory-farming dairy production.   

This is not something you're likely to read in the news — because, frankly, it's nothing new. For decades, agribusiness has been pulling levers in the U.S. Capitol, and billions of our tax dollars have been wasted in propping up our antiquated dairy industry, one of the most deeply entrenched interests in Washington, D.C.

These days, its cadre of lobbyists, bolstered by campaign contributions to politicians, is seeking to appropriate and misuse government resources to keep dairy farmers in business even as the demand for dairy products has dropped. Hundreds of millions of pounds of cheese and butter sit in reserve, millions of pounds of excess milk are being spilled out onto fields, and yet our government continues to invest in a broken system. It is time for the government to stop supporting this harmful and abusive industry.

These dairy pushers aren't just encouraging wastefulness, they're also misleading American families, who are led to believe that cows' milk is actually good for us. In fact, cows' milk is for baby calves, not humans — and we can live well and obtain all the nutrients we need, including calcium, without consuming dairy or other animal products.

Exploiting animals for food is inherently inefficient, and requires that we grow vast quantities of corn, soy, and other crops to feed them. Animal agriculture is a leading cause of our planet's most significant environmental threats, including the depletion of water and other precious resources and the destruction of rainforests and natural ecosystems. It is a primary cause of the earth's loss of biodiversity, and is a leading contributer to climate change rivaling the entire transportation industry. More than a quarter of all greenhouse gas are a direct result of the food system.

Large-scale factory-farm operations (also known as confined animal feed operations) produce enormous quantities of manure which is stored in lagoons and spread on fields, contaminating the land, water, and air.

The health and quality of life of the people living nearby is diminished and their property values drop because of the foul odors and toxic emissions. Sullied groundwater leaches into streams, polluting drinking water and contributes to fish kills. Rather than requiring that industrial farms act as responsible stewards, federal tax dollars are used to enable and support their irresponsible practices.

Environmental and human health risks are exacerbated by the indiscriminate use of antibiotics on factory farms, which has led to the development of antibiotic-resistant pathogens. These present risks to consumers who eat contaminated food, and they also pose risks in the environment, where antibiotic-resistant bacteria have been found in groundwater. When people are sickened, formerly life-saving drugs can be rendered useless.

For decades, American schoolchildren have had cows' milk foisted on them, along with artery-clogging cheese and other fat-laden animal products. Obesity and heart disease have become too common. Lawmakers are quick to speak against tobacco subsidies, and yet they overlook the fact that billions of taxpayer dollars are used to support and boost an industry that costs us billions of dollars in health problems.

Consumers are getting the message, and the marketplace is adjusting. Demand for plant-based milks is expanding, and the consumption of cows' milk is decreasing. Federal food policy should support and encourage this trend.

Just as the tobacco industry had to make adjustments, so too should the dairy industry. With the 2018 farm bill just around the corner, the time is right to decry spilled milk.

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